The manioc plant, also known as cassava or yuca (no relation to the cactus), is a woody shrub that is cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions. It is native to, among other places, South America, where many inhabitants utilize it for its edible starchy root. It is the third largest source of carbohydrates for human food in the world and can be used in countless ways, one of which I learned when visiting a Siona community in the Ecuadorian rainforest this past September.
The Sionas are a group of indigenous people living in the â€œOrienteâ€, or eastern portion of Ecuador, sharing territory with the Secoya people along the Aguarico, Shushufindi, and Cuyabeno Rivers. They cultivate many crops, among which is manioc, or â€œcassavaâ€ as they refer to it. Manioc is probably one of the most effortlessly grown crops, if grown in the right climate. To start a new plant all one has to do is take a branch from another plant and stick it in the ground. This is how Berta, one of the Sionas that I met during my visit, taught me.
The edible portion of the plant is the root, which can range in length and is covered in a rough, brown, waxy skin. One of the Sionasâ€™ main uses for the plant is a tortilla-like food that they simply refer to as â€œcassavaâ€. Berta was kind enough to show me and the rest of the group how to make this food having all of us join in on the preparation. Here is a step-by-step list of how to prepare your own manioc tortilla.
1. Gather and skin manioc root.
2. Grate skinned root over container.
3. Remove excess moisture from root. You will want to leave it somewhat moist, as that is how it binds together.
4. Depending on the size that you desire for your manioc tortilla you can spread it evenly on a pizza sheet or in a pan. The residual moisture should ensure that it does not stick to any surface so grease or oil is not necessary.
5. Cook it at a medium heat being sure that both sides reach a light brownness in color. (Berta cooked hers on a piece of metal similar to a pizza sheet over an open fire.)
6. Let it cool and enjoy.
In my mind the uses for the manioc tortilla are limitless. At first taste I thought of pizza dough, but one could obviously use it for any kind of wrap as well. The only recommendation that I have would be to add salt because it is a bit bland on its own. The root should be available in most grocery stores and may range in price depending upon how far from the tropics you are. The finished product is not quite as pliable as the corn and flour tortillas that most are accustomed to, but it can provide for a fun and interesting variation on many everyday meals. Buen provecho!